Touring the NFL: Finishing up with the NFC South & West

If you missed part one of the NFC tour, where we previewed a possible juggernaut of a division (the North) and the likely punching bag of the conference (the East), check it out HERE.

Today, we finish this stream of consciousness tour with two very exciting divisions. Enjoy.

NFC South

nfc south

Best known for…

  • The only division to never have any team win back-to-back regular season titles.
  • Side Note #1: That’s probably not a “best known” fact, but shouldn’t it be?
  • Side Note #2: I didn’t bother actually researching that fact, but I can’t imagine another division hasn’t had repeat winners.

Most likely to…

  • Continue that streak for at least one more year. Sorry, Carolina.

Quick Hits

  •  This might be the division with the highest variance between possible outcomes. I could see any of the following happening:
    • Saints cruise to the title while the other three teams stumble
    • Everyone except for Tampa slugs it out, whoever reaches 10 wins gets the division
    • Carolina’s defense gives them the glory of being the first two-time NFC South champions
    • The Saints still can’t figure out how to win on the road and their defense doesn’t improve, opening the door for everyone else
    • The Bucs ride a coaching and quarterback upgrade to the division championship in an underachieving division (contingent upon season-ending injuries to Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, of course)
  • At one point I had Atlanta sneaking back into the playoffs, but I’m tempering expectations. They should certainly bounce back better than Houston (if for no other reason than the quarterback disparity between the two teams), but some injuries, suspect talent outside of the offensive skill positions, and a natural distrust for Mike Smith’s coaching abilities have me thinking more like eight wins instead of 10.
  • Bummer about what happened to New Orleans this offseason huh? They became “the sleeper Super Bowl contender who turned out not to be a sleeper because everyone started talking about how they’re a sleeper and now they’re doomed.” Just like everyone else, I too was searching for an outcome in the NFC that was anything but “Seattle goes 14-2 and steamrolls everyone.” I had the Saints as a sneaky pick, but now it’s time to shy away. Way too popular.
  • Carolina’s reward for their first playoff appearance in five years? An October/November run of these opponents: Chicago, @Cincinnati, @Green Bay, Seattle, New Orleans, @Philadelphia
  • They can thank Clete Blakeman’s marvelous officiating for that first-place schedule.
  • By the way, Carolina facing five consecutive playoff teams is only the second most brutal stretch for any NFL team. We’ll get to the most brutal in a minute.

Fun with gambling

  • As expected, New Orleans is the prohibitive favorite to win the division at -150. Atlanta and Carolina are both +450 while Tampa Bay is +550. I don’t really see any good bets there unless you’re planning to put a hit out on Brees.
  • My least favorite regular season MVP bet from this division is Jimmy Graham, not because his 66/1 odds aren’t large enough, but because Brees has never won an MVP. In what scenario would Graham win it over Brees no matter what his stats look like? Wouldn’t bet on this if it was 250/1.
  • Again, not loving any bets in this division, probably because of all the ways this could play out. I guess I’d put a little money on both Atlanta (+120) and Carolina (+145) over 8.5 wins. Feels like one of them’s going to do it.

NFC West

nfc south

Best known for…

  • Being the division where college coaches go to fail
  • (Joking)
  • Being the best division in football, by a significant margin

Most likely to…

  • Fall short of that hype

Quick Hits

  • In no way am I saying this division will be bad, but it kind of only has one place to go from last year. San Francisco could take a step back with the question marks, injuries and suspension(s) on defense. Arizona’s unlikely to get another healthy season from Carson Palmer, and even if they do, they’re right up there with the 49ers when it comes to brutal suspensions and injuries. St. Louis isn’t projected to improve on their 7-9 2013 record.
  • Speaking of Palmer, I was trying to think of a good candidate to be the next older, former Pro Bowl quarterback who seems-to-be-washed-up-but-actually-isn’t for Arizona. First Kurt Warner, now Palmer. My top four would be: Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton, Matt Hasselbeck.
  • This division finished 42-22 last season.
  • Pretty easy to see why it won’t repeat that insane performance: They face the two toughest divisions in football, their own and the AFC West. No team plays less than seven games versus 2013 playoff teams.
  • Out of all the unfair parts of these teams’ schedules, and there are many, this one takes the cake: Over an eight week period, the Rams’ schedule goes a little something like this: @Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, @Kansas City, @San Francisco, @Arizona, Denver, @San Diego.
  • That’s seven games against last year’s playoff teams in just eight weeks!
  • I guess the NFL’s showing us how they’ll punish any team that drafts “a Michael Sam type” in the future, right?

Fun with gambling

  • Yet another obvious set of odds for the division title, Seattle (+110) and San Francisco (+150) are both contenders while Arizona and St. Louis are both extreme long shots (+750 for each).
  • Just like each of their team’s odds, Colin Kaepernick (18/1) and Russell Wilson (20/1) are lumped right next to one another in the MVP odds.
  • My two favorite bets in this division: Seattle to win the division at +110…because Vegas is paying you extra to bet on a team that may win its division by by four or five games. And St. Louis under 7.5 wins (+120) feels like a lock due to the previously mentioned screwjob from the schedule makers.

Sure, I’ve disliked Seattle since before disliking Seattle was cool, but I’ll admit their presence makes everything more interesting. We haven’t had many Super Bowl winners lately who were a legitimate threat to repeat or kick off a dynasty. It makes every game they play that much bigger. It gives us a little bit of a villain to root against. I hate ’em but I’m glad they’re in my life.

Next week we’ll get into win/loss records for each team, and until then, I’ll be trying desperately to convince myself that we’re NOT heading for a Seattle/Denver repeat in Super Bowl XLIX.

Enjoy week three of the preseason. The over/under on the number of times a media person calls this weekend a “dress rehearsal” is set at 725.5.

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Week 12 NFL Picks: Molly Settles the Great Thanksgiving Debate, the Jets Get Embarrassed in Front of a Comatose Nation and Much More

This seems pretty unfair, right? Making picks for the weekend games almost five days before they happen? But that’s life for a professional football blogger. You’ll notice two games below where I’ve declined to pick them at this point in the week because we have absolutely no clue who will be playing quarterback on Sunday for a couple teams. You’ll have to check me out on Twitter Sunday morning to see who gets the nod in those games.

This week of picking early seems to fit right in with the second-half swoon I’m experiencing. I’ve now had three consecutive weeks of a 7-7 record picking against the spread…by far my worst stretch of the year. My season record against the spread now sits at 88-67-5. I guess it wouldn’t be the worst thing if I finish the season 20 games over .500, but I’m convinced I can knock out a 12-4 or 13-3 week eventually. No promises about this week because everything seems off between picking the games on Wednesday morning and having three games played on Thursday.

Don’t get me wrong, I love three Thanksgiving Day games. Nine hours of a built-in excuse not to speak to anyone at your family gathering. Who could ask for more?

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to provide you all with some gambling information as a token of my appreciation for your loyal readership. Hopefully it’ll help guide you to backing the correct teams in week 12 and beyond:

Through 11 weeks of football, these are the teams with the best record against the spread:

1). Tampa Bay (7-2-1)

Tied-2). Houston (7-3-0), Seattle (7-3-0**) **should be 6-4-0

Tied-4). Atlanta, New England, Denver, San Francisco, Indianapolis, New Orleans, St. Louis (all with 6-4-0 records)

Out of those 10 teams, nine of them have a shot to make the playoffs. Just thought that was interesting.

And here are the four worst teams against the spread so far this year:

1). Philadelphia (2-8-0)

T-2). Kansas City (3-7-0), Oakland (3-7-0)

4). Detroit (3-6-1)

And as you can probably guess, none of those four teams have a shot to make the playoffs.

If I’m having trouble picking a game that involves one of the best teams agains the spread vs one of the worst teams against the spread, I tend to use their against the spread records as the tiebreaker (like this week’s Houston at Detroit game).

Anyway, let’s fly through week 12’s full slate of games (home team underlined):

Houston (-3.5) over Detroit: I think this line is low because of how quick the turnaround is for these teams that played a 1PM game on Sunday to have to play the early game on Thanksgiving Day. But I don’t see any logical reason why the Texans wouldn’t win, and they haven’t won any of their games by less than six this year. If you’re really trying to create an argument for why someone should take the Lions, I guess you could say two things: 1). Detroit’s out of the playoff picture so maybe this is the last game they “get up” for this year, you know, since it’s their traditional Thanksgiving game on national TV, and 2). This is the first of three consecutive road games for the Texans…after Detroit it’s at Tennessee and then at New England, so maybe they’re going with very basic game plans in the next two games so that they’re ready for the Patriots, a relatively important game for seeding purposes. But I’m not taking one of the worst teams against the spread this year (Detroit) over one of the best teams against the spread (Houston) when the line is this small.

Washington (+3) over Dallas: Let’s say the Redskins win this game, the Giants lose to Green Bay, and Philadelphia handles Carolina on Monday night (all conceivable outcomes, right?). With five games left in the season, the NFC East would look like this: Giants 6-5, Washington 5-6, Dallas 5-6, Philadelphia 4-7. Then you have the Redskins playing for first place in week 13 when they host the Giants. I love the idea of this division somehow coming down to the final couple weeks when the Giants had a three-game lead over everyone else just as recently as two weeks ago. I love even more that my midseason bet of the Redskins to win the East is somehow still in play at this point. For these reasons, I’m picking the ‘Skins to upset Dallas with a huge, HUGE Thanksgiving debut for RGIII.

New England (-7) over NY Jets: I’m spitting in the face of logic on this one…the logic that says, “Don’t give seven points in a divisional road game when the team you’re backing just lost its second best offensive player.” There’s a long list of reasons not to take the Patriots with a big spread this week—short week of preparation, Thanksgiving distractions, Gronk out and no certainty around Aaron Hernandez’s health, Jets treating this game like their Super Bowl, needing overtime at home earlier in the season just to eek out a three-point win against these bastards… But I think the Gronk injury will actually motivate the offense to show the league that Gronk alone isn’t the reason they’ve been dropping 50 on everyone lately. Plus, it’s the Jets on Thanksgiving in front of a national TV audience who literally can’t move off the couch. The Patriots have the country’s full attention on Thursday night. Is there a better time to embarrass Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez and the rest of this helpless team?

Side Note: Did I just pick all three road teams to cover on Thanksgiving Day? I think I did. Which one do I feel the worst about? The Patriots, as usual.

Buffalo (+3) over Indianapolis: If you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, this line seems low. Indy’s 6-4 and they’re at home against a 4-6 Bills team that’s looked terrible on the road,” be careful. The whole world knows the Colts have been overachieving for the last seven weeks, and Vegas probably knows they’re due to come crashing back to earth (an action that was jumpstarted in New England last weekend). So by making the line lower than expected, Vegas can cash in on all the idiots who think the Colts really are a playoff-caliber team. I know Andrew Luck is good (and he’s going to be unbelievable in a year or two), but in this game, the best player on the field will probably be C.J. Spiller. I can absolutely see the Bills running Spiller a ton because first of all it’s the best offensive strategy for them, but also because it’ll help them put together long drives that keep Luck and the Colts offense off the field. Give me Buffalo in the minor upset.

Miami(+3) over Seattle: This is the game where after it ends, people go “Oh yeah, how did I not remember Russell Wilson is garbage on the road?” The Seahawks are averaging 15 points in their five road games this year, putting up a 1-4 record. And because I hate them and I’m always looking for reasons to pick against them, that’s good enough for me to roll with Miami.

Molly’s 7-4 record against the spread this season has earned her the right to choose a very important game in week 12. No more Oakland, Jacksonville or Tennessee for her. This week she gets Atlanta (-1.5) at Tampa Bay. Huge playoff implications. A Bucs’ win would put the NFC South in doubt for Atlanta for the first time since week 1. Let’s see what Molly thinks about her biggest responsibility of the season:

 

Oakland (+8) over Cincinnati: The Carson Palmer Revenge Game!! I know it’s not getting a lot of play in the media, but don’t you think he’s more than a little motivated to end his former team’s playoff hopes? The question is, can he do it? Actually, I don’t care who wins this game, I just need to know if the Raiders can keep it to one touchdown or less. Now I know the Raiders have lost their last three games by a combined score of 135-69, but that was against Tampa, Baltimore and New Orleans. Those are three of the best offenses in the league if you only count Baltimore’s home games. Needless to say I don’t think the Raiders D is giving up quite as many points to the Bengals. I’m picking the Raiders because I do think it would be funny to see the Bengals’ playoff hopes come to an end at home against Palmer.

Cleveland (Pick) over Pittsburgh: Charlie Batch against Cleveland in Cleveland and the Browns aren’t favored? Yes please. I would never rule out a Steelers win regardless of the circumstances, but I refuse to be the idiot who picked Charlie Batch on the road.

Jacksonville(+3) over Tennessee: Is anyone else ready for Jacksonville to build on that unexpected-yet-super-exciting game against Houston last week? They put up 37 points on one of the best defenses in football! And let’s not forget a couple other exciting moments they’ve had this year, specifically Cecil Shorts’ amazing catches towards the end of their week 1 loss in Minnesota and their week 3 win at Indy. With Justin Blackmon maybe emerging as a relevant receiving threat, this Jaguars team suddenly has some playmakers. And with Blaine Gabbert’s poor quarterbacking out of the way for the time being, Chad Henne gets to step in for a full game and show us what the Jags have been missing all year. I’m randomly excited for this Jaguars team! C’mon, Jags, let’s take care of that boring Titans team and get on a little roll to end our season!

Denver (-10.5) over Kansas City: Earlier in the season I kept doubting the Broncos’ ability to win on the road, and they responded with three straight road wins by 11, 8 and 22 points. Even though Denver pretty much has the division locked up at this point, I think the AFC race in general is motivating them just fine right now. Peyton and the Broncos know as long as they keep winning, they’re just a couple Baltimore and New England slip-ups away from getting a bye. And we all know Kansas City blows, right? Would you even take the Chiefs if it was a 17-point spread? Probably, but you’d have to think long and hard before you did, right?

Minnesota at Chicago: NO LINE

Can’t really pick this one yet because both Jay Cutler and Percy Harvin’s statuses are uncertain. I’ll post my pick and the spread I’m taking it at on Twitter before kickoff Sunday.

Baltimore (-1) over San Diego: Like I said in my week 11 recap blog post, these Ravens are the luckiest 8-2 team ever. And the luck continues when they get to play a Chargers team that’s clearly given up on the season. You think I’m exaggerating about them giving up? Have you seen the video of Philip Rivers walking off the field with 10 seconds left in a one-touchdown game when his team had the ball? Check it out HERE.

San Francisco (-2.5) over New Orleans: If I’m holding off on picking the Bears game, then I’m allowed to hold off on this one until everything is crystal clear with the 49ers’ QB situation, right? I’m not even sure which QB would inspire more confidence for me to pick the 9ers right now, but I need to give it some more thought later in the week. I’m inclined to take San Francisco regardless, so if I forget to update this pick on Twitter by Sunday morning, that’s who I’m going with.

St. Louis (+3) over Arizona: I famously predicted the Cardinals would go on a six game losing streak way back in week 4, and even though it took them one extra week to start the streak, they finally achieved my prediction with last week’s loss in Atlanta. Thanks to Ken Whisenhunt’s reckless substituting and benching of his three struggling quarterbacks, I’m confident that the beat goes on and Arizona loses its seventh consecutive game. Ryan Lindley, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, it doesn’t matter. By the way, fun fact: Did you know that I was 9-0 against the spread in the Rams’ first nine games this year? So naturally I put everything into them as a 3.5-point favorite last week at home against the Jets (suicide pool pick, biggest bet of the week, highest weighted pick in my Pick ‘Em leagues). This tragic week 11 mistake almost caused me to quit the football blogging all together…but that would have been way too Philip Riversy of me.

NY Giants(+3) over Green Bay: Picking the Giants and not sure why. I guess because I don’t think the Packers are quite as good as they’ve been playing lately. And I don’t think the Giants are as bad as they’ve shown recently. And because I’ve seen a lot of games this year where the Packers had trouble blocking and Rodgers was on his ass all day long (something the Giants D does often to quarterbacks, right?) Also because I haven’t picked one of the teams coming off a week 11 bye yet, and doesn’t one of those teams have to come out strong from the two-week break. I say it’s the Giants.

Philadelphia (-2.5) over Carolina: Well, if my dream scenario of a clusterfucked NFC East is gonna come true, I guess the Eagles have to win this game. If this line was a point higher, I’d be taking the Panthers, but I think the Eagles—even with Nick Foles—are good enough to beat Carolina by a field goal. It may be Andy Reid’s final prime-time game as the Eagles’ coach so you gotta figure they’re going to win big for him. Wait, what? The Eagles have two more nationally-televised games after this one? And we’re gonna sit through both of them because we’re chumps? Great.
Looks like I’m picking at least nine road teams and eight underdogs this week. Let’s hope a little Thanksgiving magic gets me back to my winning ways. Happy Thanksgiving to all my loyal readers (and a Miserable Thanksgiving to all my non-readers)!

Midseason NFL Power Rankings: Ignoring the Worst 15 Teams and Writing Too Much About the Best 17 Teams

In my week 9 NFL picks blog, I said we were looking at the most difficult week of the season in terms of picking against the spread. Sadly, my record for the week reflected that. I didn’t break the .500 mark for the first time this year. I finished 7-7 for the week, and the disturbing trend of picking the primetime games incorrectly continues as I went 0-3 in the Thursday, Sunday and Monday night games. My overall record on the season is still a solid 74-53-5, but I can’t stand for mediocrity. I noticed that four of my seven incorrect picks from week 9 were games that featured a team we should consider a “contender” versus a team we know for sure is not a “contender.” In those four games, the contender covered the spread, leaving me scratching my head and wondering why I didn’t see this coming. At the halfway point of the season, I should have expected the legit teams to be pulling away from the teams that are “already preparing for next year” (Mike Shanahan’s words, not mine).

Since it’s basically the midpoint of the season and I seem to be losing my way when it comes to filtering out the good teams from the riff raff, I wanted to take a stab at a Power Rankings post. But this particular post is going to ignore the 15 teams who are effectively eliminated from postseason contention. Basically, any team that has a negative point differential or has at least five losses is out. There are actually 16 teams with a positive point differential, and all of them have four losses or less. The one team who’s record is .500 or better but has a negative point differential will be included in the power rankings—that would be the Indianapolis Colts, who potentially have larger forces working in their favor. (Side note: In 2011, two teams finished the regular season with a negative point differential and made the playoffs: the Broncos had a -81 differential, but had God on their side, and the Giants had a -6 differential, but had Satan on their side. In 2010 the Seahawks finished with a -97 differential and made the playoffs, but they had the worst division in football history on their side. The point is the Colts could absolutely make the playoffs without having the stats to back it up.)

So we have 17 teams in contention. Of course a few of these teams will be dropping out of this category by season’s end since only 12 teams can make the playoffs. But for the rest of the season, when I’m considering my weekly picks, I’m going to remember that these 17 teams are worthy of playoff and possibly Super Bowl consideration. No longer will I stupidly pick Cincinnati to play a close game against Denver just because I’m not sure how well Denver plays on the road.

If you’re upset that I’m ignoring 15 teams entirely, there are plenty of websites you can visit that debate the merits of the Titans versus the Rams and which one should be 24th in the Power Rankings.

Let’s look at the (fill in catchy name here like “Slick 17” “Sexy 17” or something even more creative) from “most likely to follow the Arizona Cardinals’ path of crashing & burning” to “most likely to give Roger Goodell a ‘fuck you’ handshake on February 3rd.”

The format is pretty random, but I’ve included the following: the team’s actual record, the predictions that Nkilla and I made for their record before the season started, the team’s point differential (often a better indicator of how good a team is than their win-loss record), their record against the spread (because it always comes back to gambling), a season highlight and lowlight, and whether they’re on the rise (heading north) or fading (heading south).

This is part one of the power rankings. Part two will follow shortly. Enjoy.

17). Minnesota

Record: 5-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 7-9

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 6-10

Point Differential: +7

Record Against the Spread: 3-5-1

Season Highlight: Beating the 49ers by 11 during their 4-1 start

Season Lowlight: Any one of Christian Ponder’s last five games

Direction They’re Heading: Way South

As decent as the Vikings have looked through their first nine games, they really needed to put up a spotless record over that time to have a shot at the playoffs. That’s because their schedule gets brutal in the second half—two games against Green Bay, two against Chicago, one against Houston and only three of seven games at home. At 5-4, it’ll take a miracle for them to stay in contention. This team is a perfect example of how important a good quarterback really is in the NFL. They have arguably the best RB in football, the best all-purpose player in football (Percy Harvin), a top-10 passing defense and a middle-of-the-road running defense. What are they missing? A QB worthy of starting in pro football is the answer.

16). San Diego

Record: 4-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 8-8 (right on track)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 6-10

Point Differential: +28

Record Against the Spread: 4-4

Season Highlight: Hearing the media constantly refer to them as “the Cowboys of the AFC.” Norv Turner is honored to be compared to America’s Team and aspires to be as competent as Jason Garrett someday.

Season Lowlight: Having to deal with two challengers for the title of “most self-destructive team” —the Cowboys and the Eagles. Or I guess scoring only six points in a 7-6 loss at Cleveland would qualify.

Direction They’re Heading: East because they have three more games on the east coast and because they’re likely going to stay the course with a .500 record.

A competent coach and quarterback tandem would be able to get this team to 9-7 based on the remaining schedule. But remember who we’re dealing with here. The Chargers will go 8-8. But when Norv Turner has to answer to his superiors in the offseason, he’ll likely point to a 4-2 divisional record as the way to judge the success of his season.

15). Tampa Bay

Record: 4-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 3-13 (oops…I thought they were playing in a “tough” NFC South)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 7-9 (probably nailed it)

Point Differential: +41

Record Against the Spread: 5-2-1

Season Highlight: The honor of being the talk of the NFL after week 2, even if it was because of their overly aggressive handling of the Giants’ kneel downs at the end of their game.

Season Lowlight: Having the only black quarterback that the media doesn’t refer to as a “scrambling quarterback.” Josh Freeman is offended by that, apparently.

Direction They’re Heading: Slightly North, maybe Northwest?

The Bucs gotta feel good about 4-4 after starting the season 1-3. While it’s great that they have the best rushing defense in the NFL, the problem is their last-ranked pass defense and the fact that they still have to face Matt Ryan (twice), Peyton Manning and Drew Brees in the second half. The only way I see them sneaking into the playoffs is if they go into week 17 with a 9-6 record and are fortunate enough to be playing a Falcons team that already has the top spot in the NFC locked up. Then they could get that 10th win and possibly beat out a Seattle or Detroit for the final wildcard spot.

14). Miami

Record: 4-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 4-12 (crossing my fingers that they lose the rest of their gams)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 5-11 (predicted Dolphins to get 1st pick in 2012 draft)

Point Differential: +21

Record Against the Spread: 4-3-1

Season Highlight: Being able to say “If we had just won our two overtime games, we’d be 6-2 right now.”

Season Lowlight: Losing all three of their games that were decided by three points—two of which were to the Jets and the Cardinals. How embarrassing!

Direction They’re Heading: Slightly south, maybe all the way to Cuba?

It’s a fun story: football team that everyone pegged to be at the bottom of their division and possibly the bottom of the entire league rides a rookie QB and a group of unheralded players to the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Dolphins we already have one of those stories (with an added dose of playing inspired football for a sick coach) later on in this post. The Dolphins are going to regret all three of their close losses from the first half, but none more so than last week’s loss at Indy, considering that’s one of the teams they’re competing against for a wildcard spot in the AFC. Just like the Bucs, the Dolphins have a great rush defense and a horrid pass defense. The reason they get the nod over the Bucs is because they don’t play nearly as many good passing teams the rest of the season as the Bucs do.

13). Detroit

Record: 4-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 9-7

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 8-8

Point Differential: +4

Record Against the Spread: 3-4-1

Season Highlight: Setting the unofficial record for playing in the most consecutive games determined by one score to start a season with seven (unofficial because I made it up).

Season Lowlight: Losing four of those seven one-score games.

Direction They’re Heading: South by Southwest?

Give Detroit some credit for hanging around. They’ve played five of their first eight games on the road, including at San Francisco and at Chicago. They were also the preseason popular pick to take the big slide from a 2011 playoff team to a 2012 also-ran (turns out the Saints would have been the right pick there). They’re still in the hunt even though they’ve had to give a significant amount of carries to a running back named Joique Bell. On the one hand, they do play five of their final eight games at home, but on the other hand, they still have to face Green Bay (twice), Chicago, Atlanta and Houston. The home games probably won’t offset the stiff competition, but if they can get to 9-7, at least they can feel good about putting up a winning record in the hardest division in football.

12). Indianapolis

Record: 5-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 4-12 (underestimated the Luck factor)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 6-10 (probably underestimated the Luck factor)

Point Differential: -32

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

Season Highlight: Getting Andrew Luck, clearly a franchise QB, for only $6 in the auction draft…oops, I crossed over to my fantasy team for a second…But choosing Luck in the real NFL draft and already overachieving against projections that most people had for them this year has to be the highlights so far for the Colts.

Season Lowlight: If this was a normal year, it would clearly be allowing Mark Sanchez and the Jets to drop 35 points on them. But this isn’t a normal year for them. Obviously their coach getting diagnosed with leukemia is probably the right answer.

Direction They’re Heading: Slightly North?

I might have the Colts a little higher up on this list than people think they should be, but that’s for two reason: 1). Andrew Luck just might be even better than we thought, and we can’t rule out the possibility of Luck carrying the Colts singlehandedly to 10 wins, and 2). this Chuck Pagano thing is really giving them a boost. I’m not afraid to admit that if the Patriots were one of those 15 teams already out of playoff contention, I’d be 100% in on rooting for the Colts. For now, I’ll continue to hope for my dream scenario of the Colts getting the 6-seed in the AFC and playing in Denver against Peyton Manning in the wildcard round. The biggest thing working against the Colts’ playoff chances is the tough games remaining on their schedule: at New England, at Detroit and two against Houston. Even the boost they get from Pagano being at the games will be limited because they’ve only got three more home games. Doubtful that he’ll be traveling with this team anytime soon. But the sentimental part of me says they claw their way to 10 wins and get that final playoff spot. Go Colts! (except on November 18th when they play New England)

11). Seattle

Record: 5-4* (legitimately 4-5, but I guess legitimacy doesn’t matter in the NFL)

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 7-9

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 8-8 (predicted them to win the NFC West)

Point Differential: +16

Record Against the Spread: 6-3 (again, should be 5-4)

Season Highlight: They said it themselves: beating the Patriots was their Super Bowl. But I have a feeling if they sneak into the playoffs by one win, or by the conference record tiebreaker, they’ll be considering the replacement referees’ debacle of September 24th as their season highlight.

Season Lowlight: Every time Pete Carroll celebrates a marginally-important touchdown by acting like he just got elected Prom Queen.

Direction They’re Heading: Not sure, this directional gimmick seemed a lot better when I thought of it after my third joint last night.

Since we pretty much know there are five locks to make the NFC playoffs—Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, the Giants and Green Bay—that means one spot is up for grabs between Seattle, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Minnesota. Does nine wins get it? Or do you need 10? All I know is Seattle got a complimentary win from the NFL that those other three teams didn’t get. When the Seahawks only get to nine wins and fall just short, at least they’ll always have that Super Bowl win over New England from earlier this year.

10). Baltimore

Record: 6-2

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 9-7

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 10-6

Point Differential: +23

Record Against the Spread: 3-5

Season Highlight: I guess beating the Patriots in week 3? (interesting that multiple teams consider beating New England to be the greatest thing that could happen to them)

Season Lowlight: Dropping a cool nine points on the Chiefs’ vaunted 30th-ranked scoring defense.

Direction They’re Heading: Just as a Raven is known to do in the winter, they’re heading south quickly.

I haven’t given the Ravens much respect this year, and I still won’t even if their record says 6-2. Other than beating the Patriots, did you know the combined record of the other four teams they’ve beaten (they beat Cleveland twice) is 9-24? And everyone knows they’re going to be short on defense the rest of the season due to injuries. We also know Joe Flacco is the definition of “average,” and that the Ravens still have to play the Steeler twice. Yes, they’re almost a lock to make the playoffs because they just have to go 4-4 the rest of the way to get there. But they’re starting to look like the worst team of all the playoff locks.

9). Denver

Record: 5-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 10-6 (was completely sold on Manning’s health)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 8-8 (wasn’t sold on Manning’s health)

Point Differential: +60

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

Season Highlight: Getting to play in the AFC West.

Season Lowlight: When Peyton Manning kept being mistaken for Tim Tebow earlier in the season because of the similarity between their spirals.

Direction They’re Heading: North

Before the season began, I had the Broncos pegged for a playoff spot, but I certainly didn’t think they’d be in the discussion of who the top two seeds in the AFC are. But that’s where they find themselves now. And it’s not just because of the Peyton Manning renaissance. Their defense is playing at a higher level than 2011, and they also have a pretty soft schedule in the second half of the season. That schedule is the reason they can’t be higher than 9th right now. By the way, when I come out with my MVP rankings (tentatively scheduled for next week or the week after), where do you think Manning will rank? I’m not even sure, but considering the guy’s got the highest QB rating in the NFL, he’s gotta be in the top three, right?

Tune in to the blog sometime later today or tomorrow for part two, where we’ll count down from #8 to #1.

Round 2 of NFL Predictions: NFC’s “Closest to the Pin” Contest

In order to really understand the game that Nkilla and I are playing against each other, and the wager we made on who is the better predictor of each NFL team’s record this season, you must read Round 1: The AFC Predictions.

In this installment of WBFF blog’s expert NFL analysis, Nkilla and I will each guess the total amount of wins every NFC team will get this year, and will be followed up with a comment from both of us (could be an insightful comment, could be a wacky idea, could be a hate-filled derogatory statement aimed at a team that has beaten the Patriots in the Super Bowl twice in the last five years).

Here’s the NFC in alphabetical order:

Arizona

Rmurdera: 2 Wins “Can’t see them beating anyone except Miami and St. Louis in home games. Someone has to be the worst team in football.”

Nkilla: 7 Wins “It doesn’t matter to me who starts at QB here. They have a better WR & RB situation than last year, and the division is below average. All four of the teams in the NFC West are going to win between six and nine games. You can basically throw darts and hope for the best.

Atlanta

Rmurdera: 9 “Looks to me like a 6-2 1st half and 3-5 2nd half. I’m more than a little bored with the Falcons winning 10 games and getting crushed in their first round playoff game. Ready for another team (Minnesota? Carolina?) to fill that role.”

Nkilla: 10 “I think I’m a little overzealous on this team and I’m not sure why? Saints take a little step down due to their disciplinary “issues,” and I am not sold on Carolina yet. This team is probably at the point of needing to make the NFC Championship game at least or things might get blown up. Defense is average, but I think year 2 of Jones and Rodgers gets them to a division title. Depending on how many playoff road games they have to play may determine if they can make the Super Bowl.”

Carolina

Rmurdera: 6 “A “good” 6-10 season leads the Panthers to become next year’s sleeper media darling…the team that gets overhyped as the up-and-comer who’s going to make the playoffs (think Detroit from 2011, the Bears entering this season).

Nkilla: 8 “I know everyone thinks they make some sort of leap this year, but I don’t see it. Too much pressure and the league really started to catch up with Cam Newton the second half of last year. Look at his game splits if you don’t believe me. I’m not convinced Ron Rivera should be a head coach. They should be happy with .500.”

Chicago

Rmurdera: 11 “I’m so high on this team right now…top talent at the key offensive positions (QB, WR, RB), and even though I couldn’t confidently name four starters on their defense, the Bears D always seems to be solid. Add in a still-dangerous special teams unit with Devin Hester, and this team is ending up in one of three places this year: cinderella division winner, top wildcard team in NFC that no one wants to play in the playoffs, or getting ‘2008 Patriot-ed’ and somehow missing the playoffs even though they have 11 wins.”

Nkilla: 10 “I am probably crazy, but I think there is maybe a 20% chance that they take the division over Green Bay. They were humming along last year until Cutler and Forte went down. They are only two years removed from their NFC Championship game appearance. I really like their offense. My only concern is if the aging defense can stay healthy enough.”

Dallas

Rmurdera: 8 “Four of their first six games are on the road, and they could easily be 1-7 halfway through the year (check out their schedule). As I look at the schedule closer, they actually only have three slam dunk wins in 2012 (home games against Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Washington). While I’m not ballsy enough to predict a 3-13 season for the Cowboys, a little bad luck and poor health should keep them towards the bottom of the NFC East hierarchy.”

Nkilla: 7 “Not liking how the preseason is going for them. Their top three receiving options have already been injured, and Tony Romo and Jason Garrett are incompetent enough on their own, nevermind together.”

Detroit

Rmurdera: 9 “Had them pegged for 11 wins before I realized Ndamukong Suh’s antics will cost them at least one game. I also accidentally assumed Matthew Stafford would be healthy all year even though that’s only happened once. Could seem them finishing below Chicago and narrowly missing the playoffs.”

Nkilla: 8 “First time they don’t have the last place schedule in several years. They still don’t have a running game and the secondary is not good. And as I mentioned before, I think the Bears are going to be better than people think. All those factors make me believe that Detroit is more likely to take a little step back rather than a step forward.”

Green Bay

Rmurdera: 13 “They’re actually a 14-win team but will likely bench their starters for the final game against Minnesota when they have the top seed in the NFC locked up. Boring analysis, I know, but it’s not like anyone would be dumb enough to predict only 10 or 11 wins from the Packers…”

Nkilla: 11 “After last season,I think they just want to be ready for the playoffs. They are not going to chase an undefeated season again. They’ll still be one of the top teams in the league, but I think they pump the breaks a bit in the regular season.”

Minnesota

Rmurdera: 7 “I originally had Minnesota down for two wins in 2012, but Christian Ponder made a believer out of me in the team’s 2nd preseason game (that’s how quickly I can change my mind. Show me one good throw from your quarterback, and I’ll bump your win total up by five). Easy first half of schedule before they go 1-7 in the second half.”

Nkilla: 6 “This is one of my most uneducated guesses. What do they get out of Peterson? What do they get out of Harvin? Is Ponder remotely competent? I think this is the team I’ve heard the least about in the preseason. No idea what that means for their season.”

New Orleans

Rmurdera: 12 “In a normal year, this team should be pegged for 13 or 14 wins, but with all the coaching and player turmoil from the offseason, I’ve gotta dock them an extra win, but still think they’re the clear favorite in the NFC South.”

Nkilla: 10 “If Brees is fully engaged, this could be your 2012 ‘Nobody Believes In Us’ team. Still tough to say how big of an impact the coaching and defensive losses are going to affect them.”

NY Giants

Rmurdera: 11 “Fuck the Giants.”

Nkilla: 8 “Just going middle of the road here. I am intentionally avoiding any news or research about this team so I don’t accidentally stumble upon any recaps of their 2011 season.”

Philadelphia

Rmurdera: 10 “Impossible to predict because of Vick’s pending injury and DeSean Jackson’s pending mailing-it-in-so-I-don’t-get-hurt moment. Let’s put it this way: I’ll be rooting for them hard to win the division over the Giants. And that’s saying something about the Giants considering how badly I despise Philly teams and their fans.”

Nkilla: 9 “Really tough pick for me. I wanted to go 10 or 11 and have them win the division (I do think they win the division), but they play an inordinate amount of games against teams coming off bye weeks. And teams coming off byes are fresh and tend to play better. This could be ‘the team no one wants to play’ once the playoffs get started.”

San Francisco

Rmurdera: 10 “Predicting them to struggle against elite offenses this year. They play six teams that fall into that category: Green Bay, Detroit, NY Giants, Chicago, New Orleans, New England. I see them losing each of those games.”

Nkilla: 8 “With the exception of some punt return fumbles in the NFC Championship game, every single little thing went right for this team last year. Everything. No way Alex Smith plays as ‘good’ again this year, and the defense has to regress some. And they have a brutal schedule. The 2012 49ers’ meltdown is going to be my second favorite 2012 NFL meltdown, trailing only the Jets meltdown. My least favorite meltdown – the replacement officials blowing so many calls and being the lead story on every Monday football show for the first three weeks of the season until the league settles.”

Seattle

Rmurdera: 7 “…But a good seven-win season, where they play a lot of playoff teams close? Sure, why not?”

Nkilla: 8 “I can’t wait to see which 12-4 NFC Wild Card team is going to get upset by the 8-8 NFC West division winner Seattle in the first round of the playoffs this year.”

St. Louis

Rmurdera: 7 “Sam Bradford and the St. Louis offense looked unstoppable against Kansas City’s defense in their second preseason game. I honestly don’t know if that makes the Rams offense decent or KC’s defense pathetic, but since I have a horrible read on this team, let’s just go with a boring seven wins.”

Nkilla: 6 “We get to decide if Sam Bradford is competent or not this year, right? I’m leaning towards slightly below competent. I heard rumors someone in a fantasy league traded Tom Brady for Sam Bradford last year. Can’t possibly be true, right?”

Tampa Bay

Rmurdera: 3 “Tough schedule playing six games in a good NFC South, four games against possibly the best division in football (NFC East), and then getting road games vs Denver and Oakland in the AFC. I think Josh Freeman’s a backup QB by mid-2013.”

Nkilla: 7 “Clearly these guys quit on their coach last year. I’m not saying they were as good as their 2010 record, but they shouldn’t be as bad as their 2011 record either. Nice little bounce back year. Would be a playoff candidate in six of eight divisions, but unfortunately they are in one of the other two.”

Washington

Rmurdera: 4 “Talked to my college roommate who’s a diehard Redskins fan last week, and his excitement and passion for this team convinced me to bump them from a 4-12 record to a 4-11-1 record. Predicting a tie in Cleveland for the RGIII’s, and another year of the college roommate watching Sunday afternoon Wizards basketball games in November instead of the ‘Skins games.”

Nkilla: 7 “I don’t think Bob Griffin III has as good of a season as Cam Newton had last year, but he should be competent. They made some upgrades at the offensive skill positions, and their defense was actually pretty good last year and should continue to be so. The problem: Should Mike Shannahan still be a head coach in the National Football League?”

Final thoughts on our NFC Picks:

-Out of 16 NFC teams, our predictions were within 2 wins of each other on 12 of them (and out of the 32 NFL teams overall, Nkilla and I were within two wins of each other on 25 of them). Not a ton of variety, but I think that’s pretty typical of preseason predictions when you have two NFL gurus making predictions.

-The biggest discrepancy between our predictions between both conferences was over the Arizona Cardinals. It was a five-win delta. Nkilla said, “It doesn’t matter to me who starts at QB here,” but every QB option for Arizona is terrible, and you can’t compete in the NFL in 2012 with a train wreck at QB. Time will tell, but I think this is going to be Nkilla’s biggest regret with these picks.

-To all the Chicago Bears fans out there: I’m sorry we ruined your season with the Gariepy double-jinx. No way the Bears perform how they should after both of us openly admitted that we’re irrationally high on that team.

-We’ll be back next week with our predictions for playoff teams, Super Bowl winner, individual regular season awards and possibly more. Happy “8 Days Til Opening Night” to you all.